REPUBLICAN BILL WOULD STRIP $300 PAYMENTS FROM THE UNEMPLOYED: More than 200,000 North Carolinians receiving $300-per-week federal unemployment benefits will lose that money earlier than planned if Gov. Roy Cooper signs a bill passed Wednesday evening. Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate passed a new version of a bill that they say will help understaffed businesses find more workers. It’s a state-level version of a national discussion over the status of the restaurant and tourism industries and the labor market for those low-paying jobs. “With a severe labor shortage, now is no time to pay people extra money not to work,” said Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Republican from Hendersonville. Edwards, who has several McDonald’s restaurants in western North Carolina, is the Senate’s point person on unemployment issues.
NC GOP BUDGET WOULD CUT $13.9 BILLION IN TAXES OVER 5 YEAR PERIOD: The tax cuts embedded in the state budget proposal Republican Senate leaders released this week would save taxpayers $13.9 billion over the next five years. Or, depending on one's perspective – and usually political party – it would cost state government $13.9 billion in revenue needed for schools, salaries and other operations. Either way, the proposal includes $5.2 billion more in tax cuts over that five-year period than the Senate voted on just weeks ago in a standalone bill that had bipartisan support. Democrats, including Gov. Roy Cooper, have criticized the plan, saying now is the time to make generational investments in the state and to raise salaries for teachers well above the 1.5 percent average Senate Republicans proposed. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, also a Senate Finance Committee member, called the Republican tax plan "reckless" and said it would have "traumatic implications on the state’s ability to adequately fund our schools and build roads in the years to come.”
BISHOP BARBER AND OTHERS ARRESTED FOR PROTESTING OUTSIDE U.S. SENATE AFTER FILIBUSTER: The Rev. William Barber of North Carolina was arrested Wednesday with more than 20 others for obstructing traffic in front of the Hart Senate Building during a protest in Washington. Barber and supporters of his National Poor People’s Campaign, who protest state and national policies they say are racist or disproportionately affect poor people and those of color, were in Washington for a “Moral March on Manchin and McConnell.” The event was part of a year-long effort planned by the Poor People’s Campaign. The effort kicked off at Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh on Monday evening and will culminate with a mass march in Washington in June 2022. At Wednesday’s protest, Barber led protesters in chants in support of a voting rights bill called the For the People Act, which was filibustered by Senate Republicans on Tuesday. “Pass the bill!” Barber shouted. “Free the vote!” The group Wednesday rallied in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, then marched over to the Senate building to demand to meet with Manchin and McConnell. Denied an audience with either senator, the group went into the street in front of the building. Police asked them to disperse, and those who refused were arrested, charged and released. They were not taken to jail.
FEDERAL JUDGE BLOCKS LOAN FORGIVENESS PROGRAM FOR BLACK FARMERS: U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard (GW Bush appointee) halted loan forgiveness payments and debt relief for disadvantaged farmers anywhere in the United States, according to the Middle District Court of Florida ruling. The lawsuit was filed by White farmer Scott Wynn of Jennings, Fla., who also has farm loans and has faced financial hardship during the pandemic. He said the debt relief program discriminates against him by race. The debt forgiveness program is part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, and from the moment the USDA launched the program, it’s faced assault in the courts. Approximately $4 billion was slated to go to disadvantaged farmers, primarily for debt relief, but also for grants, training and education. The program was already temporarily on hold, due to a separate restraining order in a case by a White farmer in Wisconsin. However, even if that Wisconsin order is reconsidered or even reversed in July, when a ruling is expected, this new nationwide injunction would still keep the program on hold for some time. Black farmers in America have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland over the past century, a result of what agricultural experts and advocates for Black farmers say is a combination of systemic racism, biased government policy, and social and business practices that have denied Black Americans equitable access to markets. Corey Lea, a beef and pork rancher in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who advocates for Black farmers, has said the debt relief program is fair. “White farmers received nearly $9.7 billion in pandemic relief in October of 2020 and socially disadvantaged farmers received less than 1 percent of that money,” he said.
BIDEN ADMIN MOVES TO BAN SOLAR PANEL COMPONENTS FROM XINJIANG DUE TO HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES OF MUSLIMS: The White House on Thursday announced a series of steps to crack down on forced labor in the supply chain for solar panels in China, including a ban on importing products from a silicon producer in the Xinjiang region. A significant portion of the world’s polysilicon, which is used to make solar panels, comes from Xinjiang, where the United States has accused China of committing genocide through its repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. In one of the newly announced actions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has banned imports of silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Company as well as goods made using those products. In addition, the Labor Department added Chinese polysilicon to a list of goods believed to be produced by child labor or forced labor. The list, which already contained a number of other Chinese goods, is intended to increase awareness about exploitative labor practices. Allegations of forced labor in the solar panel supply chain have created a dilemma for President Biden and his aides. The administration wants to press China over human rights abuses, but it also wants to expand the use of clean energy sources like solar power in the United States as it seeks to reduce carbon emissions. On top of the human slavery issue, the 4 Xinjiang polysilicon manufacturing plants each use a coal-fired power plant to juice their operations. There has to be a better way, and this ban will force us to find it.